A young boy growing up in an Immigration Detention Centre is the main character of Melbourne writer Zana Fraillon’s award-winning novel, The Bone Sparrow.
“Subhi was born in detention and so the only world he knows is the world behind the barbed wire fence,” explains his creator. Resilient and hopeful, the boy dreams of stepping outside the fences and discovering the world for himself.
“I wrote The Bone Sparrow in response to immigration policies worldwide which refuse to see asylum seekers as people. We talk about statistics and policies, and forget that every one of those numbers represents an actual person, whose voice has been silenced, and whose future has been stolen,” says Fraillon, whose book won the inaugural Readings Young Adult Book Prize and was shortlisted for Guardian Children's Fiction Prize 2016.
"We talk about statistics and policies, and forget that every one of those numbers represents an actual person, whose voice has been silenced, and whose future has been stolen.”
In Australia, where the treatment of refugees remains a vexed issue, the Turnbull government announced in August it would withdraw support from at least 100 asylum seekers who had been transferred to Australia from offshore detention, mostly for medical reasons.
These refugees were granted new ‘final departure Bridging E Visas’ and given three weeks to find new accommodation and a job, reversing a long-held policy that had banned them from working.
Recent media reports show that around 400 asylum seekers and their children may be subject to the new rules, which sees income support of around $200 a fortnight plus government-supported accommodation being cut.
Kon Karapanagiotidis, CEO of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC), tells SBS his organisation has promised to “house, feed and care for” any asylum seekers left “homeless, hungry or destitute” by the new policy, an undertaking that could cost as much as $1 million for the first six months.
Fraillon, inspired by Authors for Grenfell Tower, which raised nearly $250,000 for the victims of the tragic London apartment block that claimed 80 lives in June, came up with the idea to start a campaign on Twitter using the hashtag #authorsforasylum to raise money for ASRC’s emergency Let Them Stay appeal.
She listed three prizes for auction: a signed hardback edition of Bone Sparrow, a signed picture book set and a one-hour writing workshop.
“I wanted to raise as much financial support as possible, but I also wanted to show the asylum seekers and refugees that we, as a community, support them,” she says.
Dozens of Fraillon’s fellow writers followed her example. “The response has been incredible. The writing community here is so supportive, and it has really shown. People are auctioning some of the most amazing opportunities and experiences and goods. The support for ASRC and the generosity of people has been just astounding.”
“I wanted to raise as much financial support as possible, but I also wanted to show the asylum seekers and refugees that we, as a community, support them."
Benjamin Law auctioned signed copies of Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East and his Quarterly Essay, Moral Panic 101: Equality, Acceptance and the Safe Schools Scandal, while Anna Spargo-Ryan gave away a one-hour Skype book chat and a story critique along with a signed copy of her latest book, The Gulf.
Maxine Beneba Clarke offered 10 signed hardback editions of Foreign Soil, her acclaimed 2014 collection of short stories, and a one-hour VCE English session in Melbourne in 2018.
The response from the public has been just as encouraging, Fraillon says, noting that #authorsforasylum was trending on Twitter on Wednesday night.
"For me, this is what social media is all about – joining together across physical boundaries to drive social change and become part of a wider community.”
"I can't wait to add up the bids and see how much we raise for the ASRC,” says Fraillon. “It is also really exciting to see that other people are wanting to use the format for their own fundraising. For me, this is what social media is all about – joining together across physical boundaries to drive social change and become part of a wider community.”
ASRC CEO Karapanagiotidis is heartened by the emergence of “organic” fundraising campaigns like Authors for Asylum – “a wonderful example of our values at our best, that most people in this country are decent and good people,” he says.